Barracuda was written out of absurd circumstances. When an industry sleazeball in Heart’s dressing room insinuated that lead singer Ann Wilson and her sister, Nancy, were lovers, Wilson retaliated by writing. Somehow warping the episode of blind and totalizing misogyny into her own anger, Wilson translated it into one of rock and roll’s greatest songs of all time.
Ann Wilson has been rocking since 1972 in a relentlessly hyper-masculine and heteronormative world, effectively using those circumstances to fuel the art itself.
Following a 2016 summer tour with Cheap Trick and Joan Jett and the release of two EPs (the first two parts of The Ann Wilson Thing!, the third is due to release later this year), Ann Wilson will embark on her next project later this week: The Ann Wilson of Heart tour.
Wilson will be performing at the UC Theatre on Friday, March 10, on the second stop of her solo tour, which kicks off on the 8th in Seattle, WA.
Emerging as a self-made rock and roll queen in a generation where music possessed a special power to galvanize, ignite, and shape a new “us vs. them” mass mentality, Wilson fostered an ideology that empowered the youth and celebrated defiance of the status quo. Ann Wilson talks her solo career and her legacy as a female artist, as well as coaching us through 2017 desperation.
Alright so let’s talk about your tour. You’re going to be in Berkeley a week from now at the UC Theatre, which is brand new. You say that the setlist on this tour will include a mix of songs that “have powered your life.” Can you give us a hint as to anything you’ll be playing?
All of the songs have great lyrics, and they’re all songs that I have loved at different times in my life and have helped me get through things. And songs that…it’s so cool, just reach in and grab you. And usually I can make it right with my emotions and go in and do those songs myself.
So, speaking of getting through things … Obviously a lot is going on in the world right now and we, especially at UC Berkeley, are not taking it very well. How can music specifically help us get through this?
I think that what’s going on right now is that the people have come up against a struggle inside themselves about being quiet or speaking up. And a lot of people feel that it doesn’t matter what they say, it doesn’t matter if they resist or protest or anything, and it won’t make any difference. So they just stay silent. Well, I think music can help people not stay silent; they can say the words they want to say in song, thereby getting them out. If you can get a whole bunch of people out in the street scene … it’s magical.
“If I was your age I would be really angry and heartbroken. But I’d be the kind of angry and heartbroken where I’d be really active.” -Ann Wilson
Yeah, I totally agree. So you’re touring alone this time. How does touring alone compare to touring with Heart?
We’re doing a whole different version of it. It’s much, much less of a corporate sounding treatment; it’s just the songs stripped down to their own shells, and it’s really beautiful. I’m only doing a percentage of the set that’s Heart and the rest are new songs I’ve written and covers that I love. Heart songs are really all revisited and reimagined.
Are there any songs that you can’t do without Nancy?
Yeah, there are some songs that are kind of Nancy’s songs, like These Dreams, that I don’t do as Ann Wilson of Heart. I wouldn’t do that because that was really Nancy’s song. Some of the songs that are really heavy on the acoustic guitar I probably wouldn’t do. I’ve been leaning towards harder rock.
That’s interesting that the harder rock songs are sometimes the ones that you can strip down, make more vulnerable, and draw out the lyrics when you do them solo. I think that’ll be cool for the audience.
I read that your longtime writing partner, Sue Ennis, went to UC Berkeley. Does that mean that you ever hung out at Cal?
Yeah! We did. We used to visit Sue Ennis at Berkeley. She was living on campus and we were in Seattle and we would come down, and we would all pick her up and go across the bridge into San Francisco and get a hotel suite with a piano and write songs. And we’d just hole up there for a whole weekend and just bash away and see what we could get. And then when we were done we’d drop her off back at her apartment over on the other side, and then go back. We did that a whole bunch of times. A bunch of Heart songs were written down there.
No way! Can you give us some examples of Heart songs written in the Bay Area?
Yeah… Straight On (For You), Mistral Wind, Bebe Le Strange, Break, Down On Me, Lighter Touch…
Switching gears a little bit … how did you feel about Sarah Palin using Barracuda in her 2008 campaign?
Oh it was just gross! It would be like if you had designed and sewn a beautiful, elegant cocktail dress and somebody came and chopped it off. Shortened it into a mini dress…and totally trashed it up. We thought that it was all wrong…Wrong message!
Totally. So, we’re a college magazine, and our demographic is very young adult, Bay Area pissed-off type. And like I said, in Berkeley especially, we’re pretty angry and jaded and heartbroken right now. If you were currently our age, how would you be feeling and what would you be doing?
Well, if I was your age, I would be really angry and heartbroken. But I’d be the kind of angry and heartbroken where I’d be really active. I’d be going out and I’d just be trying to organize…and just resisting. I’d be trying to get in their way whenever I could, I’d be saying little things to make it harder for them to succeed, and I’d definitely want to hang out with those who felt like me. I’d be getting really, way pissed off.
That’s so great to hear. And just a little bit more on that…you’ve emerged as this badass, self-made female rock n’ roller but in what seems to me to be an aggressively hyper-masculine industry. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?
You know, the thing about it is this world really does have two genders, and the way the world works best is when the two genders can work together equally, not one being stronger or better than the other. When both genders can just have each others’ backs. So we’ve always struggled—within our own little microcosm of a rock band—to just be with our rock brothers and be gender blind. Especially in the music business, at the very beginning, you’ve got all kinds of really ridiculous misogyny and sexism. People would say to Nancy: “You’re a really good looking chick, is that guitar really plucking itself?” Cold, backhanded stuff like that. And we just kind of went on and on and kept showing up — just kind of turning a blind ear to it. After a while the successes begin to build up and people start to look at you differently. They watch you penetrate the inner sanctum, and then you’re standing there, the biggest lights in the middle of their room, and they can’t come down on you as much. It’s just a matter of doing it — doing it, being there, and having a thick enough skin to not go running from things wrong with it.
Is there any advice you have for young female artists now?
If you project where you want to be and if you truly believe where you’re going to be, you put oxygen all around your intents, in what you truly believe in, and it will manifest. It will happen. And when your doubts come in and start to cloud the picture, shake your resolve, that’s when things go haywire.
“Whenever people get really unhappy and really, really desperate and brokenhearted, then that’s fodder for art.” -Ann Wilson
The music industry has changed a lot, there are an awful lot of women in it now, playing and writing and producing and managing and just doing all kinds of jobs. But still way, way too much is expected of young women artists. Now they have to be model beautiful, they have to be able to sing good enough, they have to be able to dance, they have to be able to have babies and get right back up on the stage, you know like a month later, looking perfect again and dancing. And it’s incredible what’s expected of them now.
But anyway, I would say it’s short…and if you really want to do the job of music in the music industry today you have to realize that only 1/10 of 1% of 1 million is ever truly going to make it and that takes supreme sacrifice. Make sure you really want it, and make sure that you’re gooood.
That’s great advice. Speaking of young artists: are there any that you’re really into?
I like Muse a lot. I like Trixie Whitley a lot. I liked her father, Chris, and she’s really got a lot of what he had. She’s just coming up, you know. I also like Lucinda Williams; she’s not a young artist but she’s just raw and cool.
Lucinda is a queen. Alright, so to wrap this up … you obviously are a major part of the Seattle music legacy and you’ve heavily influenced the grunge movement that came out of the 90s in Seattle. You must have such an interesting perspective on the power of music to contribute to or participate in larger movements. This is a hard time for artists and a hard time for women, but someone recently told me, “You know when everything is like this right now, that means that art is going to get good again and music is going to get good again.” What do you think about that? Do we have another musical renaissance coming?
Oh yeah. Ohhhhhhh yeah. It definitely will. Whenever people get really unhappy and really, really desperate and brokenhearted, then that’s fodder for art, right there. It’s definitely coming.
Interview and article by Natalie Silver